Prior to my 50-mile race last month, when Stacy at Wilderness Running Company offered up an Ultimate Direction waist pack for me to test out, my immediate thought was, “It’s not going to be as good as my Uno pack.”
The truth was, I already had an Ultimate Direction waist pack that worked pretty well for me. I wear it for pretty much every run that’s in the 1 to 2.5-hour range - three hours or more, and I switch to hydration packs – which means that my Uno pack has seen a LOT of miles on the trail over the years. In fact, on a strict miles-per-dollar scale, the Uno is probably the most worthwhile investment I’ve ever made, second only to the $40 Timex that I use every single day.
Needless to say, I was a bit skeptical that something new would win me over – so in the spirit of compromise, I decided to review both packs: the one I received from WRC, and the one I already had.
The new pack I tested is the Ultimate Direction Solitaire, which combines a low horizontal bottle holder with 100 cubic inches of storage space on top. It’s a good option if you need a little extra cargo capacity for long trail runs.
Positioning of the bottle is somewhat unique in that it’s completely horizontal, laying across your backside instead of being angled upward. The pack comes with a 26-oz bottle featuring Ultimate Direction’s famous kicker valve, which seems to be a “love it or hate it” innovation (I’m not personally crazy about it). The holster is wide enough to hold standard 20- or 24-oz Specialized bottles as well as the factory UD bottle.
Above the bottle holster is a horizontal cargo compartment that is large enough to stash a jacket, a few gadgets, or even another full 20-oz bottle. There’s also a small mesh pocket on the outside of the pack for energy gel (or gel wrappers) or other small items. The whole pack weighs 9.5 oz, so you get a decent amount of storage without sacrificing too much weight – especially when you consider that it’s only 1 ounce heavier than the Uno, but provides about 40% more capacity.
The Solitaire has closed-cell foam padding on the backside, and moisture-wicking padding that stretches around to the front buckles of the stability belt for improved comfort on the run. I have to say that I found a fully-loaded pack to be a little bouncier than I like, and the horizontal positioning of the bottle does take a bit of getting used to. On the other hand, maybe I’m just too accustomed to using the Uno pack for so many years.
And why do I like the Uno so much? For a lot of reasons. At 8.5 oz, it’s fairly lightweight but durable enough to take a beating. I like the upright bottle position that’s equally accessible with both hands; I’ve never been a big fan of angled holsters, and the Uno is one of the few models on the market that isn’t angled. The holster is also compatible with any standard 20- or 24-oz bottle, although the taller size is a bit more noticeable against your low back at times.
I also like having two separate pockets – so I can keep my gels and wrappers separate from my tech gadgets - that are each big enough to hold one or two key essentials. The storage capacity is only about 65 cubic inches, but the contoured zipper pockets allow enough space for the basics. I can fit either a cell phone, or a compact headlamp (most frequently my Petzl Tikka XP2), or four gel packs, or even my compact camera into a single pocket. While the Solitaire would probably be able to carry all that stuff together, I generally don’t need all of those things at once – or if I do, I’m in the “over three hour” category where I’d probably step up to using a hydration pack anyway.
Most of all, I love how the Uno just settles comfortably into the small of my back, almost to the point where I forget it’s there sometimes. It has the same ultra-wicking, foam padded back panel as the Solitaire (although the waist straps aren’t padded), but for me the comfort comes more from having a smaller-profile pack in a natural resting position that remains close to my center of gravity for more efficient running.
In case you haven’t guessed by now, I ended up sticking with my Uno pack during this month’s 50-miler. I carried my camera in one pocket, and energy gels in the other. Between the Uno and my QuickDraw Elite, I had up to 42 oz of fluids with me at all times, and access to everything was a breeze. My goal coming into the race was to carry lighter gear without skimping on fluids or storage, and I felt like those two items accomplished the task wonderfully.
However, my ongoing affection for the Uno isn’t meant to take anything away from the Solitaire, which would be a better choice under different circumstances. From my experience, the Solitaire is a nice option if you need a high volume of fluid but don’t want to add a hand-held pack or upgrade to a hydration pack, or if you’re looking to carry additional water or gear than you can fit into a standard waist-mounted pack, and if you’re comfortable having a somewhat bulkier pack across your backside. The Uno is an almost unbeatable option if you’re looking to travel light and/or fast and only need one or two bare essentials along for the ride.
As I’ve said a few times already, Wilderness Running Company was instrumental in providing these products for me to compare and review – so if you’re in the market for new hydration gear, you can do me a favor by doing some business with WRC. You’re doing yourself a favor as well, since you can save 10% on anything by using coupon code R&R10 at checkout. And to make it even easier, I’ll save you the trouble of scrolling back through the post:
The Ultimate Direction Solitaire retails for $42.
The Ultimate Direction Uno retails for $30.
Previously: the Nathan QuickDraw Elite retails for $25.
*Solitaire and QuickDraw Elite provided by Wilderness Running Company.
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.